The ability to vote in elections is one of our fundamental rights that allows us to be noticed in the society we live in. Thus, we could assume that having this opportunity will make us upbeat, resilient, and secure, but that is not always the truth.
Do you experience anxiety each time an election campaign begins? Do voting and debates make you feel more anxious than usual? If the word “elections” makes your stomach flip and your jaws clench, you are not alone.
Irrespective of who will win our vote, research shows that the period leading up to an election raises stress levels across the country. Worries about how the election outcome will affect our lives and society, ongoing media exposure, and discussions in our homes, workplaces, and social media platforms can all be detrimental to our health.
Election-related anxiety seems to be at an all-time peak as people worry about who will be our next President. Absurd levels of anxiety and fear are known to be exacerbated by the next presidential election. According to a survey, the presidential election is a significant source of anxiety for 68% of American adults. (1)
Election stress disorder is a term that has recently been used to describe the anxiety that people experience before an election. But what is it specifically, and is election stress disorder a recognized medical condition? This article will provide all the information you require regarding election anxiety and the various coping mechanisms. (2)
What is Election Stress Disorder?
Steven Stosny, a psychologist in Washington, DC, first noticed the phenomenon that has come to be known as an election stress disorder. He holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is a published author of books on relationships, rage, and compassion. In his career as a couples therapist, he coined the phrase to characterize the tension and turmoil he saw his patients go through. (3)
Stosny noted that during the 2016 election season, he had received an overwhelming number of calls from patients with anxiety. The constant election coverage bothered his patients and affected their personal affairs. Since then, other individuals have adopted the phrase, which is often used—mainly since the 2020 election took up steam.
What Are the Causes Behind Election Anxiety?
Elections are important, high-stakes events that can have significant, long-lasting effects. Election outcomes can affect the direction of our surrounding communities, our regions, the states in which we live, the path of our nation, and how individuals end up living as citizens of this nation. The implications can seem relatively high in that situation. It can be challenging to block out the numerous negative elements present there, including personal assaults and a general air of pessimism. All of this adds to the anxiety around the election.
When election season arrives, that level of tension returns. On social media, you can see people frequently posting with friends and family, getting offended with each other over their political views and affiliations, and also threatening to cut ties if they do not vote. People even build boundaries when it comes to relationships, which can be stressful.
Furthermore, it seems that political leaders are more divided during the election period than ever. The leaders on each side seem to demonize not just the opposing side’s principles but also its leadership, and the two sides almost never seem to be in direct conflict with one another. Due to this, it is easy to see how the election may be seen as a pivotal battle in a fundamental political war that could significantly impact one’s everyday life, work, and basic belief systems. Because of this, it is simple to feel quite anxious about the election and its probable consequence.
Signs of Election Anxiety
Election anxiety can manifest in people similarly that stress does at any other time, interrupting your regular routine and, to some extent, tipping it out of balance. It may entail having trouble falling asleep because you are anxious about something stated during a debate or feeling mentally distracted due to election-related news.
Another sign of election-related anxiety may be the emergence of a fear of not knowing the most recent information, leading you to begin refreshing your phone for news notifications frequently. As a result, you will spend more time in front of the screen, which has numerous adverse effects on your mental health. (4)
Fast-forward to election day, and as the results and the situation change, this anxiousness grows even more. People are torn by the rapid pace of the news cycle. They desperately want to be aware of what is happening, but as soon as they hear it, they become overwhelmed and extremely upset. Anxiety is amplified when there is a great deal of uncertainty, dread, and despair.
Impacts of Election Anxiety
Election stress can affect our mental and physical well-being and ties with others by leaving us more receptive, impatient, or distant, just like other types of stress and anxiety. While general anxiety can last for months, and we do not always know why it is happening, election anxiety frequently arises from a circumstance we can see and understand.
It activates our autonomic nervous system, which increases the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine release. (5) These two hormones can significantly impact many aspects of health when their levels rise. Heart attack and stroke risk can increase due to the elevated amounts of epinephrine in the CNS. (6) Increased cortisol levels can negatively impact human health in various ways, such as by raising blood sugar levels, reducing immunological function, and narrowing blood vessels. (7)
Additionally, it affects our amygdala, which consists of two almond-sized nuclei that function as small processing chips. Their function is to control our senses, memories, decisions, and moods. (8) The amygdala’s response gets increasingly excessive and unreasonable the more stress and anxiety we encounter, which causes a slew of issues.
What Can You Do to Save Yourself from the Anxiety of Upcoming Elections?
Election anxiety should be tackled with a defined approach, just like any other concern.
Here are some methods supported by science that can help you avoid feeling overburdened in the run-up to the election. Use these strategies to help you rebound from the election in a manner that keeps you updated while also providing your brain with a needed breather.
Our minds tend to focus on all the possible negative possibilities, such as the risk of losing, questionable vote counts, massive prosecution, protests, social upheaval, etc., when faced with an unclear outcome, such as the impending election.
If we believe that we can only unwind and relax once these undesirable events have been resolved, we will exhaust ourselves with futile effort and concern. Decide to let unsolved options remain unanswered to combat this inclination. After taking the necessary action that is in your control, you should accept the ambiguity that still exists. And rest assured that you have played your part.
Control your Impulse
Take note of the unproductive behavior you hastily engage in to increase election certainty and restrain it. Our overactive limbic system triggers behaviors, such as constantly scanning news feeds for indications that your party is beating, putting people down, attempting to persuade others that they are mistaken, and mentally rerunning political rhetoric. (9) These behaviors only serve to nourish the vicious circle of anxiety and fear.
However, when we resist the temptation to reassure ourselves, we develop more open thinking and show ourselves that we can live with uncertainty. We will be more composed and prepared for everything that comes our way.
Face the Negative Emotions
Although the feelings that come with uncertainty may seem intolerable, ignoring or avoiding them just provides momentary solace; they will eventually return. Instead of seeking short-term relief, learn to confront these feelings with an open heart and mind. Use your breath to create room in your body for these emotions to express themselves. Redirect your thoughts to your practical attitude, which welcomes everything you can not manage and control, including your concerns.
Do What is in Your Control
Making decisions within your power will assure you that you have done your bit and are now prepared to see what happens next. You can accomplish this by correcting misleading info first. Indulge in a civil discussion and direct them to reliable sites with truthful evidence if you see anyone spreading false information about the elections or a particular party. Additionally, going back to the activities that excite, interest, and encourage you can offer you a sense of direction and control. You can focus on anything other than the election and consider what you can alter within your limited range of influence.
The constant bombardment of attack advertisements and unfavorable material increases as the election gets nearer. Even though it is crucial to be informed and involved, you should not feel obligated to monitor the news constantly.
Be thoughtful about how much media you consume. Keeping updated on events is critical, but you must also establish and adhere to boundaries. Instead of spending hours looking through social media, try setting up a certain amount of time to connect with the news before committing to anything else.
Political debates can be unsettling, specifically if you often witness your close ones express disagreeable viewpoints. While everyone is free to express their opinions, you may also place limits on how frequently you discuss politics or establish guidelines for the types of dialogues you are willing to have.
Limit Your Social Media Usage
Our brains are designed to assess our surroundings for perceived threats as a survival mechanism. This explains why we are so lured to depressing news. It is only our brain’s naive attempt to protect us from harm.
However, this deluge of unfavorable information might leave us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Being cautious of how you utilize social media is one approach to lessen the stress brought on by the present political landscape. (10)
Keep your phone out of your bedroom so you will not be enticed to scroll instead of getting sound sleep. You may also put time limitations on how much and when you can browse social media.
How to Cope with Election Anxiety?
There are a few methods of coping with it. One way to ensure that the election goes your way is to take direct action. This could entail helping out with a movement you care about, supporting the candidate of your choice, or joining a group that works to get individuals to vote. But do not forget to take care of the remaining aspects of your life while you are at it. You should make an effort to establish the correct balance between participating and being active in politics while yet leading a full life with other interests and pursuits.
If you notice that election-related news or conversation is wearing you out, remind yourself to take a rest. This can entail avoiding the news in favor of activities like hanging out with loved ones, reading a book that is not politicized, or watching a movie.
It is also wise to avoid getting into a Facebook or Twitter dispute if you see that it stresses you out. Social media opinions can be especially scathing and unpleasant. If hearing statements of this nature stresses you out, make a concerted effort to avoid hearing them. In general, focus on your feelings and keep an eye on them. You should also watch out for yourself and set boundaries without hesitation.
The next part is for you if you are now experiencing such high-functioning anxiety that you are having trouble concentrating and finding it difficult to cope.
Is there Any Treatment for Election Anxiety?
However, the secret to overcoming election fear is to pay attention to your behaviors and thought processes to gain a positive perspective on events since everything begins in the mind. However, several coping skills for anxiety and treatment approaches could assist you in handling it effectively.
Meditation is a practice where one uses methods like mindfulness to develop awareness and focus and reach a cognitively clear, emotionally tranquil, and stable state. Mindfulness is the discipline of focusing the mind on a single idea, action, or object. Using anxiety bracelets or fidget toys for anxiety, engaging in constructive conversation, and contemplating the favorable results of recent elections are all potential aids. (11)
Stress and anxiety can be reduced through meditation by redefining our connection to our perceptions. This does not imply that we reject these ideas. In election-related stress, these are legitimate experiences and emotions related to a significant and life-altering event. We ought to be fascinated by these ideas and the emotions they arouse. We can also decrease the effects on our bodily and emotional health by controlling them better.
A relaxation response can replace our stress reaction with the aid of meditation. According to MRI studies, frequent meditation can cause the amygdala to contract, which improves our capacity to control anxiety.
There are several helpful meditation techniques, including:
Noting is a crucial meditation practice for stress and anxiety management because it enables us to acknowledge an unpleasant or worrisome thought for us to let it go and move on. (12)
Visualization is yet another approach that can be useful. Using visualization, you may allow your thoughts to move and alter your body and mind. A feeling of calm and relief might return by visualizing a stream of comfort and light passing through our bodies. (13)
Another helpful technique is the body scan, which lets us recognize the bodily symptoms of stress or worry and lessens their control over us. (14)
You can also consider getting assistance from a therapist if election-related stress and anxiety significantly affect your life. Psychotherapy can assist you in coping with your feelings in a healthy and positive manner.
One of the best forms of therapy for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). By assisting people in altering their thoughts and behaviors when they are anxious, CBT relieves anxiety. CBT seeks to assist individuals in stopping and altering the anxious thoughts that fuel anxiety while also assisting in lowering avoidant behaviors. (15)
Elections anxiety is natural when a campaign is right around the corner, but it is important to channel your worries into something that will help the causes you care about. Keep in mind that whatever the outcome of the election, try to keep a balanced viewpoint. You are also encouraged to vote because doing so will show that you are engaged in the process and playing an active role.
Make sure to implement all of these techniques if you want to get relief from anxiety. However, you should think about seeking professional help if your anxiety is overwhelming and cannot be controlled or managed. The good news is that psychotherapy can offer you a healthy and supportive approach to dealing with the emotions you are experiencing.